Syria: Rebels Getting Stronger

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June 20, 2012: The death toll is up to about 14,400 as the security forces find their movements increasingly restricted. The rebels are making many roads very dangerous to use and keeping troops supplied is more difficult because of attacks on convoys. The army is increasingly resorting to using artillery and tank gun fire on residential neighborhoods, in an attempt to terrorize the rebels into halting their attacks. This isn't working and is causing most of the casualties. The rebels are able to continue their attacks on the oil pipelines. While Syria can no longer legally export oil, there are smuggling opportunities. The number of armed, and highly motivated, rebels is obviously increasing. The number of loyal troops is declining, although the government has formed some armed militias among the religious minorities that still support the Assads. Iran is growing desperate, as nothing it is doing to help the Assads is stopping the rebels from growing stronger.

The rebels are calling for armed peacekeepers to protect civilians from army attack. Such peacekeepers are not coming. A recent opinion poll in Turkey found that 57 percent of Turks opposed intervention. The Arab League is still sending guns and money but no troops. NATO is following the lead of Turkey, the NATO member closest to the situation.

The UN is keeping its 300 observers in Syria, in the hope that the violence will decline enough that the observers can actively move about and see what’s going on. Even without the observers being active, the rebels are able to get video and pictures out showing the continued army attacks on civilians. The secret police are still seeking out rebels in cities still nominally under government control. Even the capital, Damascus, is no longer safe from rebel attack. There is a heavy police and army presence in the neighborhoods where senior officials work or live.

The government is also actively hunting for Islamic terrorists in areas it controls. The Syrian government has long experience with Islamic terror groups, who usually had sanctuary and the ability to carry out administrative tasks (fund raising, recruiting, propaganda, diplomacy) in and around Damascus. Most of these Islamic radical groups have fled or turned against the government and are in hiding, preparing more terror attacks. Syria notes the recent defeat of al Qaeda in Yemen and believes that Saudi Arabia will quietly give safe passage for surviving al Qaeda men to move from Yemen to Iraq and then Syria. That's a win-win for Saudi Arabia, which gets these terrorists farther away and has someone else (Syria) kill them off.

The Russian freighter carrying refurbished helicopter gunships and munitions has apparently turned back after its insurance was cancelled. The insurance company feared that the freighter might be attacked, creating a risk the standard merchant ship insurance does not cover.

June 19, 2012:  Iran has begun spreading rumors that Russia, China, Iran, and Syria would conduct major military exercises in Syria. This would keep foreign intervention out of Syria. Russia and China denied any such plans. Russian officials have announced that two amphibious ships, carrying infantry, are headed for the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russians are expanding a base for the Russian navy. The Russian troops will protect the Tartus base from attack. Russia has been using Tartus as a naval supply base since 1971. In 2005, as part of the deal to forgive 73 percent of $13.4 billion in Syrian Cold War era debt (mostly for buying weapons), Russian access to Tartus was extended. If the Assad dictatorship were overthrown, Russia would probably lose its access to Tartus.

June 17, 2012:  Another Syrian general has defected and fled across the border into Turkey. That makes ten generals who have fled so far.

June 16, 2012: The UN officially suspended its observer mission because the violence had escalated to the point where it was too dangerous for its observers to observe. The UN peace plan calls for everyone to stop fighting and to try and talk it out. That has not worked, mainly because the government refuses to stop shooting.

June 14, 2012:  A suicide car bomb went off in Damascus, near a Shia shrine. There were 14 wounded, the only death being the bomber.

 

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